Is solar energy dead in Alberta?

Has it been ‘banned’? Not microgeneration.

In August of last year, the Government of Alberta enacted an order-in-council to pause approvals on renewable energy power plants. The goal of the pause was to allow the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC, the body responsible to regulate utilities in Alberta to protect Albertans’ interests where market forces do not) to review the impact of renewable energy on land-use in the province and on the reliability of Alberta’s utility grid. 

Despite the doom and gloom in the media about how this pause would ‘ban renewables’, the order explicitly excluded microgeneration applications from being paused, widening the path for solar arrays—an under-appreciated but powerful segment of the renewables industry—to continue providing solutions to the very issues being examined by the AUC. 

Microgeneration is any solar system that is: 1) connected behind-the-meter, 2) smaller than five MW, and 3) generates up to 100% of the energy consumption of the Load Site it is installed at. That means that microgeneration projects can include everything from a small solar system on a house to a ground mount system with upwards of 9000 panels.

The exclusion of these types of projects from the moratorium is important because they do what Distributed Generators (DGs) cannot: reduce electricity demand on the utility grid, at the source of the demand during peak usage events. That means that even under a government that has been slow in warming to renewables, the solutions that microgenerators bring to the stated goals of that government is undeniable.

Furthermore, the AUC’s findings regarding the land-use issues have resulted in some incoming regulatory changes: 1) developing DGs on prime agricultural land and certain pristine landscapes will subject to much more stringent review processes (including location exclusions on those developments), and 2) steps will be taken to ensure that land will be properly reclaimed at the end of a DGs life, much the same as is required of Oil and Gas developments. These changes only apply to Distributed Generation projects and not microgeneration projects, which are almost always built on rooftops or previously developed land.

So how does this affect Albertan businesses looking to build solar at their facility? For the last two years, utility providers in the province (like Fortis) have had their approvals queues swamped with applications for DG solar and other renewable generation, often larger than 10 MW. DGs differ from microgeneration projects in that they are intended to export all of their generation to the utility grid rather than directly service the energy demands of a building or business park. Applications to utility providers are handled on a “first come first served” basis, meaning microgenerator applications were being held up or limited by these larger projects; projects that can often take decades to develop. These new rules will likely reverse that trend and allow microgeneration to be more freely developed on large commercial and industrial buildings on the periphery of Calgary, Edmonton, and Red Deer. This will ultimately benefit the reliability of the electricity grid and help to lower electricity rates for all Albertans.

This means that if you’ve been thinking of outfitting your business with a solar array, there’s never been a better time. Provided you have a roof or large grassy area on developed land, it is extremely likely that your business will be able to realize the amazing financial and environmental benefits of a solar system. 

Call us at 587-774-7275 to get started today.